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1.  Nasal Carriage as a Source of agr-Defective Staphylococcus aureus Bacteremia 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;206(8):1168-1177.
Inactivating mutations in the Staphylococcus aureus virulence regulator agr are associated with worse outcomes in bacteremic patients. However, whether agr dysfunction is primarily a cause or a consequence of early bacteremia is unknown. Analysis of 158 paired S. aureus clones from blood and nasal carriage sites in individual patients revealed that recovery of an agr-defective mutant from blood was usually predicted by the agr functionality of carriage isolates. Many agr-positive blood isolates produced low levels of hemolytic toxins, but levels were similar to those of colonizing strains within patients, suggesting that introduction into the blood did not select for mutations with minor functional effects. Evidently, the transition from commensalism to opportunism in S. aureus does not require full virulence in hospitalized patients. Furthermore, agr-defective mutants were found in uninfected nasal carriers in the same proportion as in carriers who develop bacteremia, suggesting low correlation between virulence and infectivity.
PMCID: PMC3448967  PMID: 22859823
2.  Characterization of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Strains Recovered from a Phase IV Clinical Trial for Linezolid versus Vancomycin for Treatment of Nosocomial Pneumonia 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2012;50(11):3694-3702.
A total of 434 methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) baseline isolates were collected from subjects enrolled in a prospective, double-blind randomized trial comparing linezolid versus vancomycin for the treatment of nosocomial pneumonia. Isolates were susceptibility tested by broth microdilution, examined for inducible clindamycin resistance by D-test, and screened for heterogeneous resistance to vancomycin (hVISA) by the Etest macromethod. All strains were subjected to Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) screening, and SCCmec, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), and spa typing. Selected strains were evaluated by multilocus sequence typing (MLST). Clonal complexes (CCs) were assigned based on the spa and/or MLST results. Most strains were CC5 (56.0%), which originated from North America (United States) (CC5-MRSA-SCCmec II/IV; 70.0%), Asia (CC5-MRSA-II; 14.0%) and Latin America (CC5-MRSA-I/II; 12.3%). The second- and third-most-prevalent clones were CC8-MRSA-IV (23.3%) and CC239-MRSA-III (11.3%), respectively. Furthermore, the CC5-MRSA-I/II clone predominated in Asia (50.7% within this region) and Latin America (66.7%), followed by CC239-MRSA-III (32.8% and 28.9%, respectively). The European strains were CC8-MRSA-IV (34.5%), CC22-MRSA-IV (18.2%), or CC5-MRSA-I/II/IV (16.4%), while the U.S. MRSA isolates were CC5-MRSA-II/IV (64.4%) or CC8-MRSA-IV (28.8%). Among the U.S. CC8-MRSA-II/IV strains, 73.7% (56/76 [21.2% of all U.S. MRSA strains]) clustered within USA300. One strain from the United States (USA800) was intermediate to vancomycin (MIC, 4 μg/ml). All remaining strains were susceptible to linezolid, daptomycin, vancomycin, and teicoplanin. hVISA strains (14.5%) were predominantly CC5-MRSA-II, from South Korea, and belonged to a single PFGE type. Overall, each region had two predominant clones. The USA300 rate corroborates previous reports describing increased prevalence of USA300 strains causing invasive infections. The prevalence of hVISA was elevated in Asia, and these strains were associated with CC5.
PMCID: PMC3486224  PMID: 22972817
3.  Real-Time Nucleic Acid Sequence-Based Amplification Assay for Rapid Detection and Quantification of agr Functionality in Clinical Staphylococcus aureus Isolates 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2012;50(3):657-661.
Staphylococcus aureus infections are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in health care settings. S. aureus clinical isolates vary in the function of the accessory gene regulator (agr), which governs the expression of virulence determinants, including surface and exoproteins, while agr activity has been correlated with patient outcome and treatment efficiency. Here we describe a duplex real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification (NASBA) detection and quantification platform for rapid determination of agr functionality in clinical isolates. Using the effector of agr response, RNAIII, as the assay target, and expression of the gyrase gene (gyrB) as a normalizer, we were able to accurately discriminate agr functionality in a single reaction. Time to positivity (TTP) ratios between gyrB and RNAIII showed very good correlation with the ratios of RNAIII versus gyrB RNA standard inputs and were therefore used as a simple readout to evaluate agr functionality. We validated the assay by characterizing 106 clinical S. aureus isolates, including strains with genetically characterized agr mutations. All isolates with dysfunctional agr activity exhibited a TTP ratio (TTPgyrB/TTPRNAIII) lower than 1.10, whereas agr-positive isolates had a TTP ratio higher than this value. The results showed that the assay was capable of determining target RNA ratios over 8 logs (10−3 to 104) with high sensitivity and specificity, suggesting the duplex NASBA assay may be useful for rapid determination of agr phenotypes and virulence potential in S. aureus clinical isolates.
PMCID: PMC3295125  PMID: 22219302
4.  Cross-species spread of SCCmec IV subtypes in staphylococci 
Staphylococcal chromosomal cassette mec (SCCmec) is a mobile genetic element that carries resistance genes for beta-lactam antibiotics. Coagulase-negative staphylococci, such as S. epidermidis, are thought to be a reservoir of diverse SCCmec elements that can spread to the most virulent staphylococcal species, S. aureus, but very little is known about the extent of cross-species spread of these elements in natural populations or their dynamics in different species. We addressed these questions by using a sample of 86 S. aureus and S. epidermidis isolates with SCCmec type IV that were collected from a single hospital over a period of six months. To subtype SCCmec IV, we used multiplex PCR to detect structural variations and we used sequences from a fragment of the ccrB gene and from the dru repeats to detect additional variations. Multiplex PCR had significantly lower typeability than ccrB:dru sequencing, due to more nontypeable isolates among S. epidermidis. No statistically significant differences in diversity were detected by subtyping method or species. Interestingly, while only 4 of 24 subtypes (17%) were shared between species, these so-called shared subtypes represented 58 of 86 isolates (67%). The shared subtypes differed significantly between species in their frequencies. The shared subtypes were also significantly more concordant with genetic backgrounds in S. aureus than in S. epidermidis. Moreover, the shared subtypes had significantly higher minimum inhibitory concentrations to oxacillin in S. aureus than in S. epidermidis. This study has identified particular SCCmec IV subtypes with an important role in spreading beta-lactam resistance between species, and has further revealed some species differences in their abundance, linkage to genetic background, and antibiotic resistance level.
PMCID: PMC3046341  PMID: 21172458
Staphylococcus aureus; Staphylococcus epidermidis; SCCmec; strain typing; horizontal genetic transfer
5.  Identification of a Novel Transposon (Tn6072) and a Truncated Staphylococcal Cassette Chromosome mec Element in Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST239▿ † 
A novel composite transposon (Tn6072) resembling staphylococcal cassette chromosome mercury (SCCHg) was identified in a collection of sequence type (ST) 239 methicillin (meticillin)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) isolates from Romanian hospitals. Tn6072 is homologous to the 5′ region of SCCHg found in staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec (SCCmec) type III prototype strain 85/2082 but lacks the characteristic mer operon. SCCHg has previously been reported to integrate downstream of orfX, at the same chromosomal location as SCCmec. Tn6072, by contrast, is demarcated by two IS431 elements, flanked by 8-bp direct repeats, and inserted upstream of the origin of replication, within an open reading frame homologous to SAR2700 of S. aureus strain MRSA252. Analysis of a geographically and temporally diverse collection of 111 strains from the ST239 clonal group uncovered 11 additional strains harboring Tn6072, demonstrating a lineage-specific insertion pattern. Complete sequence analysis of the SCCmec regions of two representative Romanian strains (BK16704, BK16691) revealed two additional novel structures derived from a type III SCCmec background. BK16704 possesses an SCCmec 3A.1.4 structure, with an IS256 insertion downstream of the right chromosomal junction. In contrast, the SCCmec element of BK16691 is truncated downstream of the mec gene complex, with a 24-kb deletion encompassing the right chromosomal junction and an inverted downstream IS256 element. This structure, tentatively named “ψSCCmec16691,” confers methicillin resistance but lacks most of the J1/J2 region, including the ccr gene complex. Taken together, these findings provide evidence for the continuing evolution of SCC elements, as well as the ST239 clonal group.
PMCID: PMC2916324  PMID: 20479198
6.  Polyphyletic Emergence of Linezolid-Resistant Staphylococci in the United States ▿  
Since the year 2000, linezolid has been used in the United States to treat infections caused by antimicrobial-resistant Gram-positive cocci. At present, linezolid-resistant (Linr) Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis strains are rare and the diversity of their genetic backgrounds is unknown. We performed sequence-based strain typing and resistance gene characterization of 46 Linr isolates that were collected from local and national sources between the years 2004 and 2007. Resistance was found to occur in at least three clonal complexes (CCs; lineages) of S. aureus and in at least four subclusters of a predominant, phylogenetically unstable CC of S. epidermidis. New candidate resistance mutations in 23S rRNA and the L4 riboprotein were identified among the S. epidermidis isolates. These findings suggest that linezolid resistance has emerged independently in multiple clones of S. aureus and with a variety of ribosomal mutations in multiple clones of S. epidermidis.
PMCID: PMC2812165  PMID: 19933808
7.  Evolutionary Genomics of Staphylococcus aureus Reveals Insights into the Origin and Molecular Basis of Ruminant Host Adaptation 
Phenotypic biotyping has traditionally been used to differentiate bacteria occupying distinct ecological niches such as host species. For example, the capacity of Staphylococcus aureus from sheep to coagulate ruminant plasma, reported over 60 years ago, led to the description of small ruminant and bovine S. aureus ecovars. The great majority of small ruminant isolates are represented by a single, widespread clonal complex (CC133) of S. aureus, but its evolutionary origin and the molecular basis for its host tropism remain unknown. Here, we provide evidence that the CC133 clone evolved as the result of a human to ruminant host jump followed by adaptive genome diversification. Comparative whole-genome sequencing revealed molecular evidence for host adaptation including gene decay and diversification of proteins involved in host–pathogen interactions. Importantly, several novel mobile genetic elements encoding virulence proteins with attenuated or enhanced activity in ruminants were widely distributed in CC133 isolates, suggesting a key role in its host-specific interactions. To investigate this further, we examined the activity of a novel staphylococcal pathogenicity island (SaPIov2) found in the great majority of CC133 isolates which encodes a variant of the chromosomally encoded von Willebrand-binding protein (vWbpSov2), previously demonstrated to have coagulase activity for human plasma. Remarkably, we discovered that SaPIov2 confers the ability to coagulate ruminant plasma suggesting an important role in ruminant disease pathogenesis and revealing the origin of a defining phenotype of the classical S. aureus biotyping scheme. Taken together, these data provide broad new insights into the origin and molecular basis of S. aureus ruminant host specificity.
PMCID: PMC2997551  PMID: 20624747
bacteria; mobile genetic elements; genome diversification; population genetics; niche adaptation
8.  Integrative and Sequence Characteristics of a Novel Genetic Element, ICE6013, in Staphylococcus aureus▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(19):5964-5975.
A survey of chromosomal variation in the ST239 clonal group of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) revealed a novel genetic element, ICE6013. The element is 13,354 bp in length, excluding a 6,551-bp Tn552 insertion. ICE6013 is flanked by 3-bp direct repeats and is demarcated by 8-bp imperfect inverted repeats. The element was present in 6 of 15 genome-sequenced S. aureus strains, and it was detected using genetic markers in 19 of 44 diverse MRSA and methicillin-susceptible strains and in all 111 ST239 strains tested. Low integration site specificity was discerned. Multiple chromosomal copies and the presence of extrachromosomal circular forms of ICE6013 were detected in various strains. The circular forms included 3-bp coupling sequences, located between the 8-bp ends of the element, that corresponded to the 3-bp direct repeats flanking the chromosomal forms. ICE6013 is predicted to encode 15 open reading frames, including an IS30-like DDE transposase in place of a Tyr/Ser recombinase and homologs of gram-positive bacterial conjugation components. Further sequence analyses indicated that ICE6013 is more closely related to ICEBs1 from Bacillus subtilis than to the only other potential integrative conjugative element known from S. aureus, Tn5801. Evidence of recombination between ICE6013 elements is also presented. In summary, ICE6013 is the first member of a new family of active, integrative genetic elements that are widely dispersed within S. aureus strains.
PMCID: PMC2747909  PMID: 19648240
9.  Population Structure of a Hybrid Clonal Group of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, ST239-MRSA-III 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(1):e8582.
The methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) clonal group known as ST239-MRSA-III is notable for its hybrid origin and for causing sustained hospital epidemics worldwide since the late 1970s. We studied the population structure of this MRSA clonal group using a sample of 111 isolates that were collected over 34 years from 29 countries. Genetic variation was assessed using typing methods and novel ascertainment methods, resulting in approximately 15 kb of sequence from 32 loci for all isolates. A single most parsimonious tree, free of homoplasy, partitioned 28 haplotypes into geographically-associated clades, including prominent European, Asian, and South American clades. The rate of evolution was estimated to be approximately 100× faster than standard estimates for bacteria, and dated the most recent common ancestor of these isolates to the mid-20th century. Associations were discovered between the ST239 phylogeny and the ccrB and dru loci of the methicillin resistance genetic element, SCCmec type III, but not with the accessory components of the element that are targeted by multiplex PCR subtyping tools. In summary, the evolutionary history of ST239 can be characterized by rapid clonal diversification that has left strong evidence of geographic and temporal population structure. SCCmec type III has remained linked to the ST239 chromosome during clonal diversification, but it has undergone homoplasious losses of accessory components. These results provide a population genetics framework for the precise identification of emerging ST239 variants, and invite a re-evaluation of the markers used for subtyping SCCmec.
PMCID: PMC2797301  PMID: 20062529
10.  Genotypic and phenotypic relationships among methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from three multicentre bacteraemia studies 
At a time when the molecular epidemiology of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was changing, we sought to characterize several genotypic markers and glycopeptide susceptibility features of clinical isolates from patients with bacteraemia.
One hundred and sixty-eight MRSA bloodstream isolates obtained from three multicentre clinical trials were microbiologically and genotypically characterized.
All isolates were susceptible to vancomycin (MIC ≤ 2 mg/L); 38% belonged to accessory gene regulator (agr) group I, 52% belonged to group II and 10% belonged to group III. Typing of the staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec (SCCmec) showed that 67% were type II and 33% were type IV. The agr group II polymorphism was associated with SCCmec II (P < 0.001). Fifty-three percent of SCCmec II and 27% of SCCmec IV isolates had vancomycin MICs ≥1 mg/L (P = 0.001). One hundred percent of agr II strains were predicted to be members of clonal complex 5. SCCmec II was the genetic marker most predictive of vancomycin MICs of ≥1 mg/L. SCCmec IV isolates were more likely to have vancomycin MICs ≤0.5 mg/L.
Given that SCCmec IV is a marker for a community-based organism for which less prior vancomycin exposure is predicted, we conclude that prior antibiotic exposure in agr group II organisms may account for their increased vancomycin MICs.
PMCID: PMC2667134  PMID: 19261624
MRSA; SCCmec types; clonal types; Staphylococcus spp.
11.  Microbiological and Genotypic Analysis of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Bacteremia▿  
In a recent landmark trial of bacteremia caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) isolates, vancomycin MICs were ≥1 μg/ml for only 16% of the isolates, and accessory gene regulator (agr) function as measured by delta-hemolysin activity was absent or reduced in only 28.1% of the isolates. This clinical study did not capture a population of MRSA isolates predictive of vancomycin treatment failure.
PMCID: PMC2533503  PMID: 18606839
12.  Association between Methicillin Susceptibility and Biofilm Regulation in Staphylococcus aureus Isolates from Device-Related Infections▿ †  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2007;45(5):1379-1388.
Production of icaADBC-encoded polysaccharide intercellular adhesin, or poly-N-acetylglucosamine (PIA/PNAG), represents an important biofilm mechanism in staphylococci. We previously described a glucose-induced, ica-independent biofilm mechanism in four methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) isolates. Here, biofilm regulation by NaCl and glucose was characterized in 114 MRSA and 98 methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) isolates from diagnosed device-related infections. NaCl-induced biofilm development was significantly more prevalent among MSSA than MRSA isolates, and this association was independent of the isolate's genetic background as assessed by spa sequence typing. Among MSSA isolates, PIA/PNAG production correlated with biofilm development in NaCl, whereas in MRSA isolates grown in NaCl or glucose, PIA/PNAG production was not detected even though icaADBC was transcribed and regulated. Glucose-induced biofilm in MRSA was ica independent and apparently mediated by a protein adhesin(s). Experiments performed with strains that were amenable to genetic manipulation revealed that deletion of icaADBC had no effect on biofilm in a further six MRSA isolates but abolished biofilm in four MSSA isolates. Mutation of sarA abolished biofilm in seven MRSA and eight MSSA isolates. In contrast, mutation of agr in 13 MRSA and 8 MSSA isolates substantially increased biofilm (more than twofold) in only 5 of 21 (23%) isolates and had no significant impact on biofilm in the remaining 16 isolates. We conclude that biofilm development in MRSA is ica independent and involves a protein adhesin(s) regulated by SarA and Agr, whereas SarA-regulated PIA/PNAG plays a more important role in MSSA biofilm development.
PMCID: PMC1865887  PMID: 17329452

Results 1-12 (12)